Bella Flor, Bogotá Colombia
Problematic background and context
Bella Flor was for many years an illegal neighborhood placed on the surrounding area of Bogotá. In Colombia everyday people are displaced, in other words from the rural areas are forced to move out of their home towns by violence issues, and with no place to live, many of them end up living in places like Bella Flor where they build a very cheap house that wind can easily blow away. As a result of these precarious living standards (no drinking water, nor education, electricity or health service) many young boys and girls end up in the streets doing drugs, begging for money, stealing or practicing prostitution. Lack of everything, even entertainment was all they had until a couple of women came up there to give them a little leisure dressed up like clowns.
After providing entertainment to children in the neighborhood, they noticed they needed scholar assistance, food and some kids also needed to be carried out because their parents worked all day long and have no time to be with them. These three needs were noticed and Jaqueline and Ivonne could not give an answer to them but they saw the parents of the children could, so the suggested they could divide into groups that would do a specific task. Some of them would take care of babies; some others would teach children the numbers, letters and basic stuff that would help them to get into the school. And another group of parents would cook lunch for all of them with the ingredients each family had given. Without noticing, the families started bartering their time, abilities and resources. This is how the bank of barter came into life.
Even though they had not many physical infrastructures to do the activities, the started building with the only thing they all had: garbage. With garbage they took out of the garbage dump (placed in the middle of the neighborhood) they improvised a nursery, a place to children to do homework, an open kitchen and many other. Besides the places built, the old garbage dump was transformed into a play ground for children. Garbage became the feedstock to create spaces that would unite the community around.
Days passed and people who where involved started improving their lifestyles because now the shared responsibilities with the community getting benefit too. More people became interested on the activities that where going on and committed to it. The bank started to build up, and Laudes Infantis, the organization was created, to give a solid structure to the bank.
Although Laudes Infantis is an organization to provide wellbeing to communities that do not have many resources, it is not a charity association, as long as the do not give away help as many others do. What they do is educate people and tell them they have lot of things to offer, and ask them to give a little bit of that to the community so that they can get a service in exchange. As can be seen this is a way different way to help people, this is not a gift shop where people go and ask for help, here people has to pay for whatever they need.
Some of the services the bank provides are: nursery, common restaurant, clothing exchange and fixing, scholar assistance, kinder garden, urban agriculture, workshops for getting labor training.
Some of the payment forms are: working hours in some of the services provide, donating clothes, books, furniture or knowledge e. i. teaching some task to other people (knitting, sewing, painting, etc)
Is´t been 10 years since Jaqueline and Ivonne get there. And now the bank is almost self-sufficient. The bank belongs to people; it is built up on the needs and abilities of the people committed to it. On the other hand Laudes Infantis does only organize the activities, regulates the procedures, and gives advice to the bank manager who is a person who belongs to the community. Laudes Infantis provides some external resources that the community can not developed within such as books for the library, money for maintenance of the infrastructures, and so on.
The community has been built up around the bank, and the all agree the need to be more independent from Laudes Infantis, as a result they are looking for new ways of getting the financial income they need to continue to work and grow. Today they are developing a recycler short scale company to get the money the need.
The organization is as follows :
Younger, Clothing, Restaurant, Nursery, Library, Computer, Education, Agriculture
Children, Women, Men, Elder
This does not mean the Manager is different from the User; the manager him/herself is a user. He/she has to study the cases of new people willing to involve in the bank, and afterwards negotiating the payment form they are going to do. Also it is the manager’s task to give away “coins” which represents an exchange has been done. Manager gives the coins to section coordinators, and when someone goes there to do the payment (working hours), coordinator gives the coin to the user, who goes back to the manager office and handles the coin, when done that the doubt is solve.
There are more than 200 people are actually involve in the Bank of Barter. All of them are users from the manager to the youngest children, all of them do barter.
People find the bank so much helpful to improve their lives that they invite their families, relatives and friends to join. This way the bank has grown incredibly rapid. The bank has three more offices in similar neighborhoods that are located near Bella Flor. What happened there was that people from other neighborhoods started coming to Bella Flor to get access to the services, and so the population grow that much, that other offices were opened in the neighborhoods they came from.
The bank offers as has been said mostly services, meetings and training courses; but it has end up creating spaces where products are made and sold in order to get some money for the maintenance costs. In the products that are produce one can find postcards, clothing, cuddly animals and dolls; it is important to point out almost all of these products are made out from old recycled clothes, paper, cardboard, etc.
Displacement is an everyday reality many families face in Colombia. It is one of the main causes of poverty in Bogotá, and it carries out many negative consequences to the people who arrive everyday. Charity organizations try to help this population giving food, shelter or education for free, and it has end up converting people into beggars that get use to get everything for free. On the other hand, The bank of Barter, with Laudes Infantis support, not only can assure food, shelter, education and more, but it teaches people they are valuable, and they don’t have to beg for food, they just need to give away a little of whatever they are good at.
It is important to point out the labour the bank does in this community, it has been the mechanism through the inhabitants of a neighborhood have become closely to help each other, to recognize things can be improve and all of them can take advantage of it if they commit into it.
For instance the urban agriculture done in the bank, can provide a little amount of food to the common restaurant, give elder people a chance to work in their own houses, children can learn from it, gives the neighborhood a nice appearance, and it is ecologically sustainable. As seen, one single activity provides benefit to the people and environment.
The people from the bank have a lot to teach us: The way the limited resources are managed; How garbage through recycling can make available more services than expected; How poverty does not mean crime; How can we overcome the most tough situations if we commit and help each other.
Success and failure
Bank of Barter has succeeded thanks to the commitment of the people and the vision the managers and Laudes Infantis have of it. For instance mechanisms like encouraging people to study and develop a small business guarantee for the users that the can move out from poverty and can have a better future if the want to.
Off course it is vey difficult to people who come for the first time to understand they have to pay with barter, which involves a lot a commitment from them. It is easier to go steal someone to get food, or go to a charity and ask for it for free, but people who decide to get into the bank have to commit and understand that it is the only way they can move on.
Some times it is difficult to work with to many people but as long as the users do not see the bank as a bank but a lifestyle, it is easier to deal with it.
/This research was made with other people support: Diana Gomez, Adriana Almeida and Sandra Mendez/